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Photo Leaks: The Latest Scary Digital Trend

By Steven Woda on January 2, 2015 at 3:18 PM

Today, news stories about teens getting caught up in sexting and resulting photo leak scandals are a dime a dozen. As parents, we usually say to ourselves “that could never happen to my child” when we see stories like these, but the truth is that a digital slip-up like a photo leak can happen to anyone.

Just a few years ago, advancements in video, photos and messaging technology all seemed so harmless. Now, sexting seems to be all the rage as teenagers experiment with these advances in technology. Disturbingly, sexting photo leaks appear to be becoming somewhat a trend among teens and, as sexting continues to be prevalent, the images are imprinted on technology forever.

Here are a few synopses of photo leaks that have happened in towns across the US. An especially disconcerting facet about these photo leaks is that each case has occurred in just the past six months:

  • In November, two students from McLean High School in Virginia acquired and organized folders containing compromising photos of 56 female classmates. They passed around the folders to other students in a carefully concealed Dropbox page. The 16 and 17-year-old teens plead guilty to three misdemeanor charges each for distributing obscene material.

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3 Effective Digital Parenting Mantras to Live By

By Steven Woda on December 31, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Are you the parent of a teenager? If so, chances are that you know the struggle of trying to keep them safe while also letting them live their life. That is what so many parents have to worry about these days. It is even harder when it comes to broaching Internet security and knowing how to approach disciplining them in the age of information.

Here are some easy digital parenting mantras that will make your job a little easier:

1. You Are The Parent

The bottom line when it comes to keeping children safe online is to remember that you are the parent and are in control. You get to set the rules for your children, and they are to obey those rules. You can make sure that the rules are fair to them while at the same time maintaining their safety. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is what you are supposed to be doing as the parent.

2. The Internet is a Privilege, Not a Right

In the same vein, kids and teens might need to periodically be reminded that their Internet use is a privilege granted to them, not a right. From their persepctive, widespread Internet access has been available to them for as long as they can remember. For this reason, it can be easy for teens, tweens and even young kids to feel entitled to have continuous Internet access from their phones or other digital devices.

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Daughter of Police Sergeant Victim in Sexting Scandal

By Tim Woda on December 5, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Parents, teens and tweens across the world can learn a lesson from Michaela Snyder's story. Michaela, 15, is the daughter of a police sergeant and she is making her story known in an effort to make a positive impact on teens who are tempted by peer pressure.

When Michaela was 12 years old, she grew interested in a boy in her same grade. This crush turned out to be a tragedy that all parents and youngsters should know about. Michaela admits that she was so infatuated with her new boyfriend that she would do just about anything to maintain the relationship.

Oftentimes, tweens and teens lack self confidence and will do unhealthy things for the affection of others. Michaela's boyfriend asked her to send semi-nude pictures from her cell phone. At first, Michaela refused but then felt pressured into sending the pictures as the boy gave her an ultimatum. She had to either send him the salacious shots or he would leave her.

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YouTube Challenges and Peer Pressure

By Steven Woda on December 4, 2014 at 12:14 PM

The digital age has moved peer pressure from classrooms and neighborhood blocks onto the Internet. Teens follow the pack on social media websites and apps like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. The main difference between the old form of offline peer pressure and today's online peer pressure is public. When peer pressure is applied on a medium that more than a handful of people can see, teens are often tempted to succumb to it even if they'd rather not.

Before the Internet exploded in popularity, teens were often lured into shenanigans by their friends while hanging around in public parks, school parking lots and backyards. Since these situations were limited to a small group of people, fewer knew about the social pressure. Now that peer pressure is online, it is viral. If someone is hazed, taunted or challenged on the web, just about everyone will know about it.

As a result, youngsters feel an extraordinary amount of pressure to respond to social persuasions to avoid hurtful criticism, teasing and social ostracism. It is very difficult for teens to buck the trend and take the road less traveled. Many succumb to peer pressure simply because their refusal to do so will be made public through social media.

Of particular note are the viral YouTube challenges. Most of these are absurdly gross but their proponents have lured in numerous teens.

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7 Obvious Signs Your Teen is Suffering From Peer Pressure

By Tim Woda on October 31, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Peer pressure is something that is increasingly commonplace among young people and often it can have a major bearing on how they live their lives. Thanks to social media and improved communication networks, tweens and teens are in constant contact with peers. From updating statuses, looking at photos and instant messaging, children are linked to friends on a 24-hour basis, which has its advantages as well as its dangers.

Peer pressure is a problem that affects most youth to a degree. It can impact the way they dress, the choices they make, the music they listen to or the way they spend their time; but what happens when peer pressure takes its toll and how you can spot the signs of your child suffering under pressure from their friends? Here are 7 signs to look out for:

  1. Behavior changes. Look out for changes in your child’s behavior, especially when they are around certain groups of friends. Watch for the things they say, the way they act and the things they do; if they seem to change around certain people, this is a sign that they may feel under pressure to behave in a certain way.

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Is My Teen Falling Into the "Hooking Up" Trend?

By Steven Woda on July 4, 2014 at 3:27 PM

Although underage sex is an uncomfortable topic to broach, the truth is that plenty of teenagers are “hooking up”. This term refers to having "no strings attached sexual activity" with a partner. Many sociologists argue that the hooking up trend is part of a larger societal movement toward obtaining immediate gratification.

While most parents will argue that it is unacceptable for teens to be having sex, some have accepted it as inevitable. Yet this doesn't mean that the teens should be engaging in sexual activities with people that they hardly know. Herein lies the underlying problem with hooking up.

Today's teens often speak of “friends with benefits”. This is a term that refers to two people engage in sexual intercourse or sexual activity without passing through typical courting rituals or even becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. Research conducted by Students Against Destructive Decisions shows that almost one in four sixth-graders and one in three seventh-graders have engaged in sexual behavior. More than three in four twelfth-graders report the same.  Simply put, teens are jumping to dessert without eating their appetizer and main course.

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6 Requirements for Managing Peer Pressure Among Kids/Teens

By Steven Woda on June 17, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Peer pressure can be extremely hard to deal with for kids and teens.  It becomes increasingly difficult without the support of their parents.  When it comes to managing peer pressure among kids/teens, there are things that you should do, and things that you must do. Here are six such "musts" for dealing with peer pressure:

    1. Talk to your child about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and sex: Talking to your child opens up a dialogue that can be very important.  If your child feels safe discussing these difficult topics with you, there is a greater chance that they will come to you if they are curious about trying them.

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Teen Prescription Drug Abuse: It Happens More Than You Think

By Tim Woda on June 3, 2014 at 11:04 AM

It's no wonder that parents spend so much time contemplating illegal drugs, given the large number of horror stories on the news every night. But as you weigh how to talk to your child about heroin, pot, and meth, an equally dangerous drug lurks in your medicine cabinet. Prescription drugs pose serious dangers to your child, and it's just important to protect your child from these drugs as it is to protect her from illegal street drugs.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that prescription drug abuse is now the single largest drug threat to teenagers. While illicit drug and tobacco usage rates have remained relatively stable, prescription drug abuse rates among teenagers have increased 33 percent over the last five years. A study commissioned by MetLife in 2008 found that one in four teens had abused a prescription drug at least once.

But teenagers are often blind to the risks of prescription drug abuse. Fifty percent of teens believe that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs, and between 60 and 70 percent of teen drug abusers rely on prescription drugs as their primary means of getting high.

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Teens and Adults Agree: Education Diminishes Sexting Dangers

By Steven Woda on January 27, 2014 at 2:38 PM

Check out this article by the University of Massachussettes Lowell about a recent study involving sexting and recommendations to avoid risky digital behavior. 

Research by Assoc. Prof Andrew Harris and Assoc. Prof. Judith Davidson provides concrete data and recommendations related to the use of technology in young adult romantic relationships. Dubbed “sexting” by media outlets, the term involves sharing suggestive photos or messages, mostly by phone. Their paper, “Building a Prevention Framework to Address Teen ‘Sexting’ Behaviors,” details results from their research and provides insights from teens, the group least often consulted about youth behavior and motivations.

“There have been other studies about ‘sexting’ and related behaviors, but they didn’t try to understand what the kids are feeling and how their values influence their actions,” says Harris, who is also the associate dean of Research and Graduate Programs for the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “Much of the conversation has been based on limited data and knee-jerk reactions. We found that it is difficult to define ‘sexting’ behaviors and motivations in social context.”

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Digital Training Wheels: Start Early, Start Young

By Steven Woda on June 20, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Many parents make the mistake of believing they won't have to do much to ensure mobile and Internet child safety until their kids are into their teen years, or at the very least eleven or twelve years old. Unfortunately, kids are getting online at earlier ages, which means their safety is at risk at an ealier age than most parents realize.

In a recent article in The Jackson Sun, experts discuss the need for "tech talks". Parents already understand the need to talk to their kids about sex, drugs and alcohol. Discussions about technology have to be added to that list. The progression of technology demands it, and so do those who are building tech devices for kids at younger and younger ages every year. That means parents need to use"digital training wheels" even earlier than they did a few years ago.

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Don’t Give in to Sexting This Summer

By Steven Woda on June 17, 2013 at 3:35 PM

Our latest guest post for Internet Safety Month comes from Judge Tom Jacobs, the founder of AsktheJudge, an educational website for teenagers and the laws that affect them.  Here is his take on a big issue affecting teenagers both legally and socially today: sexting

As you know, it only takes a few seconds to pull up your shirt or drop your pants, snap a picture and send it to a love interest. Regardless of your reason for sexting, think twice before actually doing it. It’s an act that may change, or even end, your life.

Your state may have a sexting law. You may or may not know about it or what it says. If you Google the name of your state and “sexting laws” you can read about the consequences for sexting someone. The fact that your state doesn’t have such a law isn’t a green light for you to go ahead and send a sext message or photo to even your closest friend. This is the Internet we’re dealing with. Every post or image has the potential to enter cyberspace and go viral. You can’t take it back once you hit “send” no matter how many times you go back to hit delete or trash.

Consider the case of 13-year-old Hope Witsell. It started out as flirting, but quickly turned into a nightmare. Hope was in middle school when she sent a topless photo of herself by text to a boy she liked. However, it was intercepted by a girl who had borrowed the boy’s cell phone. The girl forwarded the photo to friends and it spread to several schools.

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Digital Parenting--The Perils of "Sexting"

By Tim Woda on February 11, 2013 at 10:34 AM

We know we have been blogging a lot about sexting lately, but it is a serious issue that we want all parents to be informed about. Here we discuss the perils associated with the sharing of nude or semi-nude photos, and tips to stop your child from making a big mistake from what they think is a seemingly innocuous action. 

When it comes to digital parenting, then, is that this new and exciting technology is often difficult to keep up with.  For example, what can we do about sexually explicit text messages, or "sexting?"  How do we keep our kids safe?

First off, know the technology.  It seems like kids will always know more about technology than their parents, but in this case the parents really need to do their homework.  Know what safeguards are available for the child's phone, including the ability to turn off or block texting and sending pictures.

Next, it is vital to keep the lines of communication open.  Talking to our kids is always good, but in this case, it's necessary.

  • Set up rules about what sort of information and pictures are appropriate. 

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Cyberbullying: Is it Possible Your Kid is a Cyberbully?

By Tim Woda on October 29, 2012 at 12:58 PM

We’ve all seen the headlines about victims of cyberbullying and the devastating results. Parents are now alert to recognizing signs that their kids might be cyberbullied, and there are a lot of resources kids on the receiving end of it. But not much attention has been paid to getting help for the child who starts the bullying.

Cyberbullies are Victims Too

The truth is that kids who bully other children need help. If you find out your child has been bullying others online, you have some options:

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5 Reasons Teenagers Act the Way They Do - Kids Safety

By Steven Woda on February 28, 2012 at 4:00 PM

teenagers on computersWhy do teenagers do what they do?  If you are the parent of a teen, you have probably asked yourself this question many, many times. When they have access to the internet, those questions are even more prevelant with the addition of ones like: are my kids safe on social networks, at what age is facebook for kids a good dicision- Well now we know.  This article provides 5 interesting, scientific explanations of why our teens do what they do. This article was originally published by Mental Floss.

The Number 1 reasons stated in the article is:

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Cyberbullying and Sexting: What's the School's Responsibility?

By Tim Woda on August 27, 2011 at 4:31 PM

Legislators often demand that schools take more responsibility for students who engage in cyberbullying, sexting, or posting fight videos on the Internet – even when it doesn't happen in school or during school hours. One major question many parents are asking themselves is: can a school possibly police their students' online lives? And even if they can, should they?

Actually, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that schools can discipline their students for activities that occur on their own time away from campus, as long as the activities are “disruptive” or “dangerous” to the school or student body. So if a student's online conduct poses a threat to the school or other students (a subjective judgement), they can be punished.

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Boys, Flirting, and Sexting

By Tim Woda on July 12, 2011 at 1:12 PM

Most of the time, when we talk about sexting (the act of sending nude or suggestive photos of yourself via cell phone) we focus on the harm it does to our girls. Of course I’m concerned about the risks of our girls posing for racy photos and distributing them – especially in high school – but what about our boys? Boys sext, too, almost as much as girls do.

Why do boys sext? A lot of reasons: peer pressure, to be funny or gross, or as a form of flirting. In fact, boys seem particularly likely to flirt by sexting.

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